Wrapping the Fear: Egyptian Mummies and the Portrayal of Archaeology in the Cinema (I)

It is obvious that these day of grant applications are not being very productive from the scientific point of view, since the only posts I can think of are based on the movies I watch to relax at the end of the day. So, let us take advantage of this and analyse in a new series of posts the cinematographic history of the most prominent creature in archaeological films: the Egyptian mummy.the_mummy_1932_film_poster

Almost all films I am going to review in the following weeks share a some common traits and leitmotifs, regardless of the story they tell. And this is indeed a very interesting point, because these traits have greatly influenced the vision society has of archaeology and, at the same time, demonstrates how society has not moved much on how non-western cultures are perceived, despite some of these traits are, to say the least, not comfortable at all. Why is the mummy, and not any of the other monsters of the rich mythologies of the Mediterranean, the most successful cinematographic creature? Many will think that Tutankhamen is the culprit, but as we will see soon, he is a surprisingly late guest on this story. The mummy has worked better than, let us say, the Cyclops, because it is from “a far away land”, it is exotic, which is basically the same thing that saying it is not white. The peplum genre, even in the cases where mythology plays an important role (see my post on Jason and the Argonauts), tends to look for more historical, hence more “real” narratives in their movies. Egypt is a far away land covered in mystery, where superstition tries to prevent the triumph of science and order, of enlightenment, this is, of the white archaeologists working in excavations.

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Filmes e Arqueoloxía (IV): The Flying Serpent (1946)

Apetecíame moito facer outra análise sobre un filme antigo de arqueoloxía e dinme de conta, quizais un pouco tarde de máis, que é moi difícil escribir nesta sección da bitácora sen facelo dunha momia. Isto activoume a curiosidade e prometo que nalgún momento no futuro farei algo de estatística nisto; namentres deixade que aproveite a miña saudade do Southwest e comente un filme que ten lugar en New Mexico.Poster_of_the_movie_'The_Flying_Serpent'

The Flying Serpent é un filme de horror do ano 1946 (xa veredes o boneco monstruoso) dirixido por Sam Newfield, e protagonizado por George Zucco, Ralph Lewis, Hope Kramer, e Eddie Acuff. Os nomes pode que non vos soen de nada, pero se sodes fans dos filmes antigos recoñeceredes o malévolo científico George Zucco coma o Moriarty da excelente The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), confrontado o Sherlock Holmes de Basil Rathbone, e varios filmes de horror e aventuras tales como The Cat and the Canary (1939), The Mummy’s Hand (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) ou Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948). Unha estrela do xénero.

A acción ten lugar en San Juan, New Mexico, e o próximo xacemento de Aztec Ruins onde un malévolo arqueólogo (esta vez non somos os bos/boas, pra variar) agocha pra si o tesouro perdido de Montezuma e asasina a todo aquel que se achegue a ese tesouro por medio dunha serpe emplumada. Pode ser unha sorpresa pra vos, se non estades acostumados á rexión suroeste dos Estados Unidos, atopar unha referencia a un xacemento azteca en New Mexico. Hai unha cidade chamada Aztec no área e incluso un monumento nacional (onde o tesouro está agochado) chamado Aztec Ruins… O que pasa é que non ten nada que ver cós aztecas (eu prefiro usalo termo mexica). Este xacemento arqueolóxico, que é real, foi un lugar de habitación dos antergos dos nativos Pueblo, datado entre o século XI e XIII CE. Sen embargo, na infame tradición de desprezalos logros das culturas nativas, os colonos brancos que se asentaron no século XIX asignaron as estruturas ós aztecas. O nome, sen embargo, non foi suficiente pros produtores do filme, que crearon pirámides mesoamericanas de pega pro fondo dalgunhas das tomas no xacemento.

Aztec_Ruins_National_Monument_by_RO
Ancient Puebloan structures of Aztec Ruins National Monument.

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Films and Archaeology (IV): The Flying Serpent (1946)

I was eager to do another review on an old classic archaeology film and realized, perhaps too late for the time I have been in business, that it is very difficult to write this section of the blog without a mummy. Poster_of_the_movie_'The_Flying_Serpent'This has sparked my curiosity and I promise that sometime in the future I will do some stats on this, but in the meantime let me take advantage of my Southwest homesickness and review a film that takes place in New Mexico.

The Flying Serpent is a 1946 horror film (hence the muppet) directed by Sam Newfield, and starring by George Zucco, Ralph Lewis, Hope Kramer, and Eddie Acuff. The names may not be familiar to you, but I am sure if you like old films you will recognize the evil scientist George Zucco as the Moriarty of the excellent The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), opposite Basil Rathbone, and several thriller and horror films such as The Cat and the Canary (1939), The Mummy’s Hand (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) or Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948). A star of the genre.

The action takes place in San Juan, New Mexico, and the nearby Aztec Ruins where an evil archaeologist (we are not the good ones in this one, for a change) hides for himself the lost treasure of Montezuma and kills anybody getting close to it by controlling a Quetzalcoatl. It may be a surprise to many of you not used to the archaeology of the Southwest region of the United States to find the reference to an Aztec site in NM. There is a city called Aztec in the area and even a National Monument (where the treasure is hidden) call Aztec Ruins… It just happens it has nothing to do with the Aztecs (I prefer Mexicas). This otherwise real archaeological site is an Ancestral Puebloan site dated between the 11th and the 13th c. that, following the infamous tradition of not recognizing the culture of the native Americans by white settlers, was assigned to the Aztecs. The name was not enough for the producers to link the site with the Mexica culture, so you can see fake Mesoamerican pyramids in the background of many scenes taking place in the site.

Aztec_Ruins_National_Monument_by_RO
Ancient Puebloan structures of Aztec Ruins National Monument.

 

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